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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

That Crazy Assignment Plan

This article about one family's woes with the SPS assignment plan appeared in today's Times. Basically a family enrolling twin kindergartens found themselves with each girl assigned to a different school in the NE. The sibling assignment only works, as it was written by the Board some years back, when a sibling is already in the school (this is a problem for people who move here as well who are trying to get both kids into the same school). And, of course, the Enrollment office usually finds them a placement for both kids at the same school but, in this case, it's not the school the parents want. And, with the vagaries of how the waitlist goes, they had been on the waitlist at Viewridge but because they asked to get on the waitlist of the school one of the twins had been assigned to, that twin went to the end of the line at the new waitlist school.

The Board could rewrite the sibling preference amendment now. We'll have to see what they do.

However the interesting thing was that Director Martin Morris said that we won't have a new assignment plan until fall 2010.

"He pledged to try to fix the problem as the district revamps its assignment policy over the next few years. But changes won't be in place until fall 2010 at the earliest."

That's at the earliest.

I had thought this was a big deal to get done and, in light of the gas crisis AND parents' demands for a new system, I would think it would be.

(As an aside, I have been surprised to hear nary a peep from the district about the gas prices. I've been reading how districts across the country have been narrowing the distances that they will pick up students. Given that we spend far more on transportation than most districts, I'm surprised the district hasn't said this.)

I keep hearing NE parents voices being very unhappy with the crowding at the elementary schools but with the Mayor saying he didn't think much could be done in the short-term and the assignment plan not changing until at least fall 2010, I think they are stuck (unless the district moves another school out of a building or reopens Sandpoint Elementary which is currently leased).

15 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I read the article, too and I couldn't understand how the twins could be assigned to different schools. Surely their tie-breaker status is essentially identical.

If one of the girls had been the last student assigned to Wedgwood, then wouldn't the other twin be number 1 on the waitlist? Who could possibly slip between them in the tie-breaker order? Yet the other twin is number 7 on the Wedgwood waitlist. How is that possible?

This goes to the lack of transparency regarding waitlists, how they are ordered and how they move.

If a student is not assigned to their first choice school, the student is automatically placed on the waitlist for that school. If the student would rather switch from the waitlist for that school to the waitlist for another school, then where is the student placed on the waitlist? The Times article suggests that the student goes to the end of that waitlist, behind other students who nmight come after them using the tie-breakers but who are ahead of them on the waitlist because they named the school as their first choice for assignment. Is that how it works?

anonymous said...

We had the same situation happen to friends of ours in the South Cluster. They applied for TOPS. One twin got in the other was assigned to a school that was not even on their application, John Muir. The story has a good ending, in that the family found themselves surprised at how much they liked the traditional ways of John Muir, and wound up moving the TOPS child to John Muir the following year!

As for the NE situation - There is no reason that the district can't co-house a new traditional k-5 or k-8 school in the Jane Adams Building. They can start it as a k-3 and grow it a grade each year. Summit, currently housed in Jane Adams has under 600 students, yet the building houses almost 1100. The building is up and running, and sitting half empty. There is no excuse for that in a cluster where 5 neighboring schools had to add kindergarten classes this year.

Since a high school co-housed with a traditional k-8 would probably not be very popular with parents, I think Summit should give up their high school program. It has not been very successful, nor has it been popular, and they only have a handful of students anyway. This would at least be a start. It would be something, while the district works out a comprehensive plan for 2010.

And, of course you have to think now about where these kids will go to middle school? Eckstein is already overcrowded, even with their portable city on site. Kids north of 110th street already don't get in, and once all of the "extra" kindergarten kids reach middle school, the cut off distance to get into Eckstein will be even further

Charlie Mas said...

The Board could address the waitlist policy without having to address the whole student assignment policy.

Melissa Westbrook said...

That how I read it Charlie. The family asked that one twin be moved to the waitlist of the other twin's school which moved her to the bottom of the list (instead of somewhere closer on the View Ridge list which had been their first choice).

As to how it happened, well, I don't understand except that one twin was the very last one to get into one school and the other twin was not linked with her and so, did not become #1 on the waitlist (despite sibling linkage). She got assigned to the next school with room. They both got on View Ridge's waitlist because that was their first choice and you get your first choice waitlist unless you specify something else. The parents could have said that the twins had to be at the same school and asked if one got into the other school, that the other twin be linked so that she could be on the waitlist for that school.

However, I would have thought an Enrollment center person could have thought of this and told them. Who knows? I'm sure they will end up together although who knows where.

Ad hoc, you pretty coldly took apart Summit. Are you sure of all your facts or are you just sure Summit doesn't deserve its program? Summit has had its successes and it was moved unfairly years ago and put in a place where it would be less successful. If Summit is already a K-12, what's the difference if there's a K-8 in the building? The high school kids at Summit are already used to little kids.

One thought; Hale will have room for Summit's high school when it is rebuilt and Hale itself doesn't want to grow bigger. Maybe there could be a Summit K-8 alternative and a Summit K-8 traditional in Jane Adams with Sumit 9-12 at Hale.

(Not advocating, just brainstorming. I just don't think because Summit should be summarily dismantled.)

Charlie Mas said...

The situation with the split twins who wanted to go to TOPS is entirely different because TOPS is an alternative school. Consequently there is no distance tie-breaker so there is no reason to think that the two twins should have the same tie-breaker status.

Over the years I have heard a number of concerns about how waitlists are managed. I think it would be best if a central office managed them impartially and followed the same tie-breakers that are used for assignment.

Charlie Mas said...

To what extent is this a direct consequence of inadequate elementary school capacity in the Northeast?

To what extent is that capacity shortage a direct consequence of poor planning and a failure to respond by the District?

Why isn't the superintendent or the Board taking immediate action to create additional capacity (real capacity, not just packing students more tightly) in the Northeast?

Why doesn't the Board extend their student assignment tie-breaker policy to waitlists? Who does manage the waitlists and what rules do they follow - if any?

Unknown said...

It would be nice if people new to the neighborhood were allowed to be on the waitlist based on distance, rather than coming in 80th place or so. We will have to pass three or four closer elementaries to get my son to kindergarten next year.

anonymous said...

Melissa said "One thought; Hale will have room for Summit's high school when it is rebuilt and Hale itself doesn't want to grow bigger. Maybe there could be a Summit K-8 alternative and a Summit K-8 traditional in Jane Adams with Sumit 9-12 at Hale"

That's pretty much exactly what I suggested Melissa.

My point is not to dismantle Summit. My point is that there is excess space in their building, in a cluster where other schools are bursting at the seams and turning kids away. If Summit can not fill it's building the excess space should be utilized. The excess space is enough (I think) to co-house a large k-5 or smaller k-8 tradition school.

Nothing personal, nothing against Summit, the NE just needs space, and this is a building that has space, is up and running and ready to go.

Janis said...

The issue of twins being assigned to different schools for kindergarten is nothing new and this particular family's situation is not unique. It happens every year and has been an issue of great concern to families of twins in Seattle. Many families simply assume that of course their twins will be assigned to the same school for kindergarten and are shocked when they aren't. As a mom of twins and a sometimes member of North Seattle Families of Multiples (even though I don't live in north Seattle), I know that many families have struggled with this issue every year and have sought -- unsuccessfully thus far -- to get the District to address the issue of the assignment of twins to kindergarten. We are lucky as our 3 1/2 year old twins have an older brother in public school and thus will be able to take advantage of sibling preference to attend the same school. Not so for many other families I know or have heard about. Think about a single parent with twins whose children are assigned to different schools for kindergarten. It's a nightmare. I am not an expert on the assignment plan or on wait list tracking, but I do know that virtually all families of twins want their children to be in the same school, especially for kindergarten. Twins have a unique relationship with each other and to be split apart at 5 years old can be traumatic for some. I hope the publicity from the Seattle Times article will get someone at the District to do something about this issue. My two cents.

Charlie Mas said...

There are other quirks in the waitlist policy.

Once the waitlists are dissolved on October 31, all seats at the schools are available on a first-come, first-served basis. So your position of number 1 on the waitlist is worthless after October 31. If a seat at the school opens up after that, it goes to the next person to call and ask for it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Not so, Charlie. According to Tracy Libros, the waitlist does dissolve but I believe I understood her to say that the only people who can ask about a space at a school are those who are just arriving in SPS, not people already within the system who want to change schools. I think this was done because of complaints that people who move to Seattle have few choices.

Maureen said...

My understanding is that you can also move from a private school into one of those spots, but as Melissa pointed out, they aren't available for kids already enrolled in a Seattle Public School.

Maureen said...

It may also be the case that if you have moved within the SPS system you can get one of those spots at a neighborhood school closer to your new address. Does anyone know if that is true?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I don't think so. Tracy told me you had to be new to the SPS system, not just have moved from one address to another.

TwinMom2003 said...

As a mother of twins assigned to separate schools I know the wait list and linkage rules all too well.

Linkage only applies for the school you list as first choice. Linkage is broken beyond the first choice school. If you are trying to enroll more than one child at the same time and neither is admitted to the first choice school then the link is broken - and they go through the remainder of the process as separate, non-related individuals.

For a wait list you have two options. You may list the name of a specific school, or you may select the default, which is your first choice school. You are not allowed to write in a choice of, " the school to which their sibling is assigned." In this way if one of the siblings is not admitted to your school of first choice then you have to be a really good guesser to know which school to list for the wait list.

The order of the wait list is determined by the tie breakers - but, only for the specific day on which the wait list is formed. Or, the day the algorithm runs for all the kids that have applications in by the deadline.

With linkage, if one child gets into your first choice school then the other will be admitted via over-enrollment, or will be given a high place on the wait list as Sibling is the first tie breaker.

The parent does not know where a child is on the wait list until they receive their admission letters. This is normally a couple of weeks after the wait list has formed. If the parent moves a child from one wait list to another they have to go to the bottom of the list, as it is a different day from when the list was composed. The tie breakers are then used to order the students that select to change lists on just that specific day.